7/05/2008

Rage Against the Machine, pt. 1


I hate technology. That's right, you heard me. In our quest to streamline our expenses and make our financial lives more efficient, we've had some big wins and a spectacular loss. Technology is to blame for the loss. Before I get into the loss, let me tell you about our wins. It started last fall when we refinanced Chronic's car loan. That saved us $80 a month. Then I got rid of my car. Total savings $850 a month. I tweaked the car insurance. Total savings $40 a month. Chronic and I got a family cellphone plan where we share minutes. Total savings around $20 a month. The wife's gym membership expired, finally :0). Total savings $50 a month. Then we got greedy.

We became like Icarus. We flew too close to the sun. I had this brillant idea to drop cable tv. It is not our intention to stop watching television cold turkey just stop paying for the cable monopoly. I have a 50" plasma and intend to use it. Most shows are available on the internet or on DVD, so we wouldn't be missing anything. My idea was to buy a home theatre computer (HTPC) and an indoor antenna. My cousin successfully controls his home entertainment center with a HTPC. And he doesn't have cable. The HTPC i bought was an HP Pavilion Elite fully loaded with a high end AMD chip, 32bit Vista Home Premium which includes Windows Media Center that has a DVR, plus the computer had a high end graphics card, video card, audio card, huge harddrive, Blu-Ray DVD drive and a TV card. The up front cost was large, but the HTPC would pay for itself in a few months because we'd be saving $90 a month without cable tv. The indoor antenna can pick up the free over-the-air channels (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX) in high def. My hopes were high. I found a website all about HTPCs called missingremote.com. Armed with the knowledge I had gotten from missingremote.com and my cousins success story, I went at it like a bat out of hell. But I ran into some frustrating bugs. The XM Radio plugin for Media Center didn't work. No music played. I could listen to XM Online with no problem over the internet. I couldn't find a resolution on the internet. Then my music library would lock up during playback. All my music is on a networked harddrive, and I never had problems listening to music on our other computers. Then when we went to play our first Blu-Ray disc, it errored. I researched the error on the HP website and found that you can't playback Blu-Ray discs with an HDMI connection. It only works with a DVI connection. Well, my tv only has HDMI connections. And I didn't have a DVI to HDMI adapter. But I don't understand why Blu-Ray doesn't playback through HDMI on a computer. HDMI carrys a video and audio signal, where as DVI only carries the video signal. But the signal is the same. So it should work. There was no explanation as to why it works the way it does. My frustration reached the boiling point so I returned the computer.

I didn't want to be defeated by technology, so I scheduled a rematch. I ordered a new HTPC with an Intel chip (I read a couple of reviews where users had loads of trouble with an AMD Vista machine, but no trouble with an Intel Vista machine). I purchased a DVI to HDMI adapter. I downgraded the firmware on my network USB hub that my external harddrive plugs into. The recent firmware upgrade caused issues on Chronic's AMD Vista laptop. The downgrade fixed the issue. I hope it fixes the issue with the HTPC. The new machine is currently being built. Part 2 of this rant will be my experience with the Intel machine.